When The Iranians Came To Jerusalem
The first wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in 1886. Penniless and pious, they built tin homes for themselves and prioritized their synagogues.
Traditionally, Iranian Jews auction off the rights to synagogue honors, and the highest bidder wins. But at Ohavei Zion synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neve Shalom neighborhood there was one exception: When worshippers began sparring for the right to open the ark during Yom Kippur’s Kol Nidre service, the auctioneer would pound his gavel and yell “sold” as soon as Meir Banai offered 50 liras.
No one minded, even though the honor was worth a lot more than 50 liras. They knew that Banai, a fruit and vegetable vender, was not a rich man, and that this particular honor was his. For during the War of Independence, when his son Avraham was wounded and captured by the Jordanians, Banai had made a vow. Should Avraham come back to him, he had sworn, he would buy this particular honor every year as long as he lived. Six months later, his son returned home.
Not long ago, we joined a tour entitled: Parsim in Jerusalem, with “Parsim” the Israeli name for Jews of Iranian (Persian) descent. Leading us through the earliest Iranian neighborhoods in Jerusalem was the multi-faceted Tal Chenya: lecturer, tour guide and master storyteller.
During our jaunt he regaled us with fascinating stories about Parsim who made the difficult trip to the Holy Land in the late 19th century. We learned that they came here with little but the shirts on their backs, but with an immense love for Israel in their hearts.